For a couple of centuries now, there have been compelling
reasons to attend Princeton, the leafiest of the eight Ivy
League universities. People have gone there to learn Eastern
mores (F. Scott Fitzgerald), to study political science (Woodrow
Wilson), to play basketball (Bill Bradley). Over the past half
decade or so, there has been another incentive: to play for the
best college lacrosse team.
This is an article from the June 2, 1997 issue
On Monday the Tigers successfully defended their national
lacrosse title. Their victim was Maryland, which was overwhelmed
19-7 on its bumpy home grass. No championship game has ever been
decided by a wider margin. It certainly could have been wider,
except that Princeton coach Bill Tierney isn't inclined to kick
an opponent when it's down. Tierney prohibits the Tigers from
scoring more than 19 goals, unless it's absolutely necessary.
So when Jesse Hubbard, Princeton's All-America attacker, scored
the Tigers' 19th goal, and his fourth, with 4:28 left, Tierney
started yelling from the sideline, "No shots!" There weren't.
Princeton, which finished the season 15-0 and boasts a 28-game
winning streak, is a highly disciplined team.
A formidable one as well. Under Tierney, the Tigers have now won
the national crown three of the last four years and four times
since 1991. There were seniors on this season's team, such as
agile goalkeeper Patrick Cairns, who will leave Princeton with a
degree in political science and three championship rings.
Cairns, who went to high school at one of the hotbeds of
lacrosse in Maryland, Boys' Latin in Baltimore, was mobbed by
family, friends and teammates after the game. He had finished
his Tigers career with a 37-3 record. "I'm the happiest man in
the world," he said.
There was competition for that title. Tierney, for starters. He
has been at Princeton for a decade, and already he is being
mentioned in the same breath as Pete Carril, the Tigers'
legendary former basketball coach. In appearance he couldn't be
more different from Carril. Tierney, 45, has a perfect shave,
combed hair, pressed pants and a steely glare. But he has
borrowed from the Carril playbook. During a game he yells things
like "Spread out!" and "Pass!" and "Take your shot!" He doesn't
race the Tigers up and down the field; he knows that useful
speed comes in bursts. He encourages his players to seize the
moment, regardless of who they are. Craig Katz, a senior
midfielder, went into Monday's game with only 16 goals this
season. Against Maryland he had three in the first half. "You've
got the shot, you may never have it again in your life; you
don't think twice, you take it," Katz said after the game.
Tierney's happiness, however, comes not just from winning. It
comes from knowing he has done something about as well as it can
be done. "If we can play any better than that," he said
afterward, "I can't wait for that day." As he says this,
everyone who knows him knows he is already looking forward to
next year, when his oldest son, Trevor, will play for Princeton
and when the offensive core of this year's team will still be
That core comprises three juniors: Hubbard and fellow attackmen
Jon Hess and Chris Massey. In the final Hubbard had three
assists to go with his four goals, and Massey had three goals.
But the dominant player was Hess, who had three goals and five
"I think today was the ultimate product of our system," said
Hess, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Player. Hess, of
Upper Nyack, N.Y., is only 5'10" and 165, but he has the neck of
a linebacker. "Once we had the ball moving," he said, "it was
hard for their defense to stop us."
It seemed that Maryland, which was unseeded in the 12-team
tournament, was worn out from its surprising 18-17 semifinal
victory on Saturday against Syracuse, the tournament's No. 3
seed, before a crowd of 30,580, the largest ever to see a
Telecast on ESPN, the final began at 11 a.m., and for the first
half of the first quarter, the game seemed more like soccer than
lacrosse. The Tigers were dominating, running the field with
abandon, picking up loose balls, making uncontested passes. They
were doing everything but scoring. Not that they were losing.
Eight minutes came and went without a goal, which is not the way
it usually goes in lacrosse.
But when the scoring drought ended, it brought a flood. With
7:30 to go in the first quarter Hess flung in the game's first
goal, unassisted. Fifty-five seconds later Princeton midfielder
Lorne Smith, a Maryland native, fired in number 2. Only 35
seconds after that, Katz thumped in his first. Talk about crash,
boom, bang. It was scary, and it was only 11:15 a.m. Poor Sean
Keenan. The Maryland goalkeeper had to endure this assault
practically by himself. His defenders were flat-footed and a
little slow, and the only theory anybody could come up with was
that they had spent everything they had against Syracuse. The
Terrapins must have been dazed by this combination of punches
because they never showed any sustained signs of life after it.
"We went through a six- or seven-minute period where we couldn't
get the ball," said Terrapins coach Dick Edell.
In the first 15 minutes the Tigers outshot the Terrapins 17-3.
They won eight of nine face-offs. They picked up 19 ground
balls, while Maryland fielded just eight. The only statistic in
which Maryland outperformed Princeton was saves, by a 4-2 count.
That's usually a bad sign, and it was again on Monday.
But according to Cairns, the finale was not only about
identifying the best collegiate lacrosse team in the country. It
was also about growing the game, beyond Maryland and Long Island
and upstate New York, the sport's traditional spawning grounds.
As lopsided as the game was, it seemed no one left early.
Everyone was there to watch lacrosse. Grandmothers in Maryland
have been known to say of a newborn grandson, "Looks like a
goalkeeper to me!" Cairns knows all about that kind of passion,
and he'd like to see his sport catch on across the country. In
the meantime he was heartened by what he saw early on Monday
afternoon--thousands of Terrapins fans standing and saluting the
national champion Tigers with polite applause. In Maryland they
know lacrosse talent when they see it.